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John Stammers
Interior Night
Picador Poetry £8.99
Review by Catherine Woodward

 

The poems of Interior Night are an exotic and unusual kind, exciting and essential, they are certainly an apt follow up to Stammers’ previous success with Panoramic Lounge-bar and Stolen Love Behaviour.

In trying to explain Interior Night and exactly what is so impressive about it I end up struggling with an initial onslaught of adjectives which render this collection ever more mysterious. These poems are peculiar, self-aware, unashamed and above all clever. This difficulty comes from the fact that Interior Night is almost relentlessly, well, interior. Often objects and moments from the world aren’t the focus of the poems, it is the contemplation that they give rise too. The reader experiences a world which is not quite the world but an imaginative place that the real world facilitates. As such the boundaries between the real and the imaginary are deliciously uncertain; extensive contemplations don’t stay rigidly in their monologues, they spill out into the real world and disorientate and confuse it. Stammers’ world is not an objective one but one scrambled by a filter of thought, feeling and emotion - it runs on interior emotional principles.

One of the most impressive poems was The University ‘He picks up a can of baked beans/from the corner shop. No one is in/ the corner shop. Nothing is on the shelves’. This poem revolves around a few key images, the corner shop, a paper bag, the colour brown. In repeating these Stammers holds our attention to them, allowing him to alter the world around these few images. Was it a brown bag, a brown spider or a brown sun that was brown? All and none are possible and this challenges our memory and our powers of logic, particularly as the maintained focus on ‘brown’ appears to give the poem a kind of inner logic despite being completely illogical. This is a world seen through the filter of a mind thinking, the real world is distorted or partly absent.

This poem in particular reminded me of The Voyeur by Alain Robbe-Grillet, which uses similar leaps of illogical logic to show the world as it is experienced. In fact it reminded me of a lot of European modernist literature, in particular the Flâneurs - Rilke’s Maria Laurids Brigge and Sartre’s Roquentin, those adorable, scholarly fools I have a soft spot for. The difference being that Stammers is aware of this indulgent and heart-warming foolishness; he takes the time to poke fun at Rimbaud and his high, romantic symbol-making and invites us to indulge in the same foolishness by presenting us with bits of the world without the accompanying scholarly contemplation. The Coolerator is a charming example.

Interior Night is a very fresh and inspiring collection, it reads like the diaries of a man exploring the world but who has consciously chosen to leave the world out of it. So much of it is experienced in a kind of atemporal void, living things that are yet to happen. It is a strange, strange book, one that makes every incidental thing seem important and then makes it unimportant again. It is in fact, a very difficult book to explain but it commands a fascinating and inexorable draw upon its reader.

 

 

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